DNA registry to study links among genetics, environment, disease

CHAPEL HILL -- Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are developing a voluntary DNA registry to study the link among environmental exposures, genetic susceptibility and human disease.

Eventually to include 20,000 patients at various UNC medical facilities, the Environmental Polymorphism Registry will be unlike the many anonymous DNA repositories that have developed since the advent and recent completion of the human genome initiatives - in that patient identifiers will be maintained in coded form.

This innovation will allow scientists to contact registry participants at a later date for their permission to obtain additional information, to invite their participation in additional studies and to offer them the option to drop out of the registry. Currently, no similar resources are available to the National Institutes of Health or to researchers at UNC.

"This is a pioneering initiative," said Dr. Paul B. Watkins, professor of medicine and director of the university's Caviness General Clinical Research Center. "Clearly, this is the next step that's needed to increase our understanding of how genes interact with the environment, including the body's response to medicines."

The registry was initiated by Dr. Perry Blackshear, NIEHS director of clinical research, and Dr. Patricia Chulada, health science administrator at the institute in Research Triangle Park. Also collaborating with Watkins at UNC is Susan Pusek, General Clinical Research Center director of training and career development.

Data from follow-up studies will help scientists identify groups of individuals with genetic polymorphisms, or variants, in "environmentally sensitive" genes and possibly to correlate these genetic variants with clinical histories and current health status.

These genes control how the human body interacts with substances from the environment, encoding pro

Contact: Leslie Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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